Innovation That Matters

The process turns brewery waste into a sustainable biofuel | Photo source Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

Researchers turn beer waste into valuable charcoal

Agriculture & Energy

The process uses inexpensive chemicals to turn brewery waste into a sustainable biofuel, which can be used to heat homes

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Spotted: Researchers at Northern Ireland’s Queen’s University Belfast have developed a process to transform used barley from breweries into carbon. The process has the potential to reduce waste and create an inexpensive, alternative biofuel.

The process is relatively straightforward; to start, the Queen’s University Belfast team drain the grain, and then treat it with two chemicals, which are inexpensive.

The treatment turns the grain into activated carbon and carbon nanotubes, which are in high demand, the team said. The carbon can be used to produce fuel, charcoal for cooking or in some production processes — such as making parts for water filters. 

The chemicals used in the process — phosphoric acid and potassium hydroxide — are inexpensive, and the process has the potential to reduce brewery waste and provide communities with a locally produced heat source.

Breweries in the EU typically toss an estimated 3.4 million tons of unspent grain a year. A single kg of waste produces enough charcoal to cover 100 football pitches, the research team said. The project was a joint effort between Queen’s University Belfast, South West College and Sultan Qaboos University in Oman.




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